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As crunch time approached, Duante Stephens knew he had to take center stage.
The Notre Dame junior scored four quick points to erase a 36-35 deficit and catapult the Dons to a 47-40 victory Friday over Naperville Central in a Wheeling Hardwood Classic semifinal. The win puts Notre Dame (12-1) in the championship game Saturday night against Niles North (10-2).
“I felt like they (Redhawks) were keying on Matt Mooney,” said Stephens, referring to the club’s leading scorer. “I had to step up big time.”
Suddenly, the images of the earlier games are vanishing for the 6-foot-3 forward.
“I knew I had a few bad games (earlier in tourney),” Stephens said. “I had to come out and be aggressive.”
His take-charge attitude received high grades from head coach Tom Les.
“Duante is very athletic,” Les said. “I thought he missed some easy ones early. But at the end, he hit some big shots.”
Mooney wound up scoring 15 points, including a three-pointer from 26 feet to close out the third quarter.
“He (Mooney) has range,” Les noted of his senior guard. “He’s a guy who can really shoot it.”
Naperville Central (8-4) battled back from a 21-16 halftime deficit behind the work of senior Nicky Lopez (16 points) and junior Nick Czarnowski (8 points, 10 rebounds). Lopez hit a key three-pointer in the third quarter, before Czarnowski scored four quick points early in the fourth quarter for a 36-35 lead.
But the Notre Dame defense clamped down over the final 6:58.
“We don’t have a lot of size, so we have to pressure the perimeter,” Les said. “Once the ball gets into the post, we’re at a disadvantage.”
Les praised his guards for keeping pressure on the ball.
“I thought Scooter (Stephenson) and Jake (Maestranzi) did a good job on the perimeter,” the coach said.